Jim had just returned from his parental hometown, a farming community in the countryside. He had graduated a few months back and had spent his summer vacation at his parents’ place, which was not much of a vacation for he was frantically searching for a job. His father told him that when he had graduated, he had a job before graduation. Those days in North America, recruiters visited the universities towards the end of each year to grab the better ones out of the graduating students before somebody else did. Jim thought of those days with envy whenever he got time in between typing the applications and making phone-calls. He learned that finding a job these days is a twenty-four hours job. On top of that, he discovered that often the appointments are made before the job is even advertised. However, his credentials, hard work and his father’s advice and contacts worked well for him and he soon got a job with a reputed organization in Toronto where he is a full-fledged Electrical Engineer now.
During his visit, or job hunt, whichever you prefer to call it, he took a break to visit his girl-friend Jenny, particularly when he was in Toronto, for example for his job interviews. He had met her in a party at a friend’s place rather casually during his student-days at the University of Toronto. She was enrolled in the Business Administration program at the York University. Due to the closeness of the two universities, they could meet quite frequently, which they did. After graduating, she did not have as easy a time finding her first job as Jim did, but eventually she did, after a few month’s effort, in the same city, Toronto.
Time has a knack to slither away quietly like a cobra in a thick bamboo forest. Five years slithered by quickly before they knew. During those five years, Jim and Jenny had ample opportunity to see each-other.
Jim never gave his parents an opportunity to complain, for not visiting them, which the other parents did plenty of. He confided his excuse for his frequent visits to his parents to a friend who used to tease him by calling him a ‘Mama’s Boy:’
“A visit to the countryside is a welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of Toronto, kind of a soothing balm on the bruises I receive during my life there.”
He had just returned from his parental home after applying the ‘balm’ to his wounds, which were more these days due to the office politics. His mother had casually chatted with him asking if he had given a thought to settling down:
“Now you have a stable job with a bright future; got even a promotion recently; there is no reason to prolong the single life.”
“Why not? … Why can’t I remain a bachelor for life?”
“I didn’t mean ‘legally married;’ my generation had done away with that notion son; we were the ones to revolutionize the society; particularly the personal relations. My generation was the first one that was truly sexually liberated. By ‘settling down’ I mean a sense of belonging with someone in a committed relation.”
“Commitments are binding mom. Should we not be free?”
“Free to do what son? … We experimented with that notion also …”
“And with marijuana, not to mention the other drugs.”
“Oh yes, marijuana.”
A glow of ecstasy flooded the mother’s face. After a few moments of swimming in that state, she resumed:
“Let’s not drift son. Where was I; oh yes; we experimented with freedom but learned quickly that that was to break the shackles to embrace anarchy; abyss; loneliness. … Too many ‘friends’, means no friends. … We learned quickly that freedom must be disciplined; otherwise, it becomes aimless wandering; rudderless ship. … I am not regretting about breaking the shackles; that was desirable; but, ending up in vacuum is the problem.” …
Jim had known that such conversations have a way of going on forever. He terminated it with, “I’ll give it a thought mom.”
Jim did give ‘it’ a thought:
“Why should I care what mom wants. I am a responsible adult; I should be able to make my own decisions, should make my own decisions; by my own free will;” he mused.
After pondering over what he had just thought for a few moments, he reflected: “Am I really a responsible adult? … How much of free will do I really have? How much of free will can I exercise in my office, my job? I must work within a prescribed mandate; guidelines; policies and regulations. Am I free to shoot everybody in sight? Should I be free to shoot everybody in sight? Should anybody be? … Among others, Mongols did and got away with it, but should they have been allowed to? Who could have allowed or dis-allowed them? They are the ones who would have ‘allowed’ ‘to die’ whoever tried to disallow them.” …
“Do not diffuse your thoughts my friend, that is to avoid the question. Focus. You don’t have to, but you must.”
“Who are you?”
“You keep forgetting me. How sad. And I am the only one who comes to your rescue whenever you are confused.”
“Hmmm; now I recognize you, my other self.”
This was not some supernatural experience; it was just a normal thinking process: Talking to oneself. One’s own self is what splits in two; one of the parts plays the role of one’s self and the other, that of the other self. Jim was quite used to it having gained ample experience during his student days. Whenever he tried to solve his problems assigned by his professors, he would talk to himself, mostly silently but loudly at times.
“Mom had said that her generation was the first sexually liberated one. What does that mean? Having as many partners as one wants? … Ah yes! Not bound to one person. But where does it lead?”
Jim knew a devout Christian married young man. His wife, May Lou, was a teenager at the time of marriage; only seventeen. She wanted a divorce. He divulged the reason to Jim:
“Mary Lou was a virgin at the time of marriage, and she is not happy about having had only one partner in her life.” She says, “I want to experiment with other men. After that I can settle with one; decide even to come back to you.”
“As if you’ll be waiting for her;” Jim joked.
“Keep me parked while she experiments. I must wait for her until she completes her experiment and makes up her mind. I must be available if she decides to come back; I must provide her the freedom, security, to come back to me but does not want to promise to come back to me, does not want to commit herself; wants to put me in the shackles while she herself roams free.” …
Jim returned to his thought process.
“Should I forget about this lone life, just settle with Jenny? Others have come and gone; she is the only static fixture.… No, no; I haven’t yet enjoyed my bachelor life fully. There must be some exotic pleasures in the unknown land; I know there are, in the space I haven’t explored yet. I must explore it; else life would be lived in vain, wasted.”
“A familiar feeling;” he heard a voice. This was his other self, smirking.
Jim realized his folly: He was feelings the same way as Mary Lou.
He had read a poem once in which the poet advises a damsel not to venture into the forest on to the mounts:
Venture not into the forest O’ fair damsel
Their bodies are scented
with exotic fragrances of Arabia
The air of that land is saturated
with vibrations of soft music
Sensuous amorous souls
share their palpitations
You lose the sense of self
lose control of self
You fall prey to
the ultimate seduction
O’ fair damsel
How little did the poet know! The fair damsel wanted to experience the loss of self, loss of control on herself; experience the ‘ultimate seduction,’ and the ultimate pleasure that follows; experience the strange pleasures of dark nights. Could the poet’s words stop the fair damsel from going into the forest? No, my friend, they would only propel her to go faster.
Now the poet tells that what is said in the above stanzas is just a fantasy, mirage, giving completely opposite reason to persuade his ‘fair damsel’ not to go into the forest:
Go not into the forest O’ fair damsel
search not for fragrant winds
none dwell there
rough ear-piercing sounds of the wild
crackles of the dry leaves
and colliding branches
are all you’ll hear
No amorous sensuous souls wander there
it’s a lonely wandering around
on a labyrinthine maze of tangled trails
between lifeless rocks
chasing a ghostly mirage
Go not onto the mounts O’ fair damsel
No one is there
Nothing is there
Jim, in his thoughts, addressed Mary Lou, “Go, go fair damsel; go into the forest onto the mounts … and return empty-handed, disappointed and hurt but wiser. … Oh yes, you’ll get your experience with as many men as you want but not the ultimate pleasure you seek. ”
“What about yourself Jim? Aren’t you longing for the same forest filled with fragrant winds? Aren’t you yearning for the same mounts with sensuous bodies to caress? Aren’t you yearning the ultimate seduction, ultimate pleasure? Not knowing that one has one’s ultimate orgasm in the arms of death alone. You can make fun of Mary Lou; but when it comes to you, it is different. It is always different, another matter, for oneself. We operate with double standards my friend, and more, if need be. We live in contradictions … We are masters at inventing the reasoning that is convenient to us.”
His other self was speaking like his brain and he was feeling like his heart.
“Life can be mapped in simple to navigate trails, but the heart is what always fogs the vision; even more, distorts the vision to show the trails of life as a hodge-podge of tangled loops on a Mobius Strip. …”
“Life with brain is hot arid desert, heart is what moistens it. Without the heart’s intervention, we shall be, who will not be.”
“Follow your mother’s advice Jim, avoid the torture; take the safer way.”
“No, no; go Jim; life is not to give up so easily, it is to follow your dreams, live your fantasies to the hilt. Tough roads lead to the rewarding destinations; don’t be a coward; fight your battle as a brave soldier; final reward is around the next turn, just around the next turn Jim.”
Jim was feeling a bit weary of the battle within himself: His brain and his heart. He felt that a state of confusion is no state to make decisions in. In such a state, Jim had always found relaxation the best way to clear the fog, sedate his critical faculty, and postpone the decisions, even thinking, for later. He and his friends encountered such situations often during their student days. Whenever they did, they all ended up in a bar.
That required not much persuasion for Jim. He took a wine glass from the shelf and a bottle from the fridge; and served himself a generous amount.
“Jenny is nice; a friend, a good friend; but she lacks the spark, the zest; she is mundane; does not kindle the passion in me.”
“You mean you don’t love her.”
“I love her alright; … but I am not in love with her.”
“Quite fine distinction! You are trying to hide it under the word-web you call reasoning … You are a mule Jim, a clever mule; a mule nevertheless.”
“Hmmm; ‘a clever mule!’ This is an oxymoron.”
“Not really, as you’ll discover.”
He had a habit of drifting if he was puzzled. This did not resolve any issues, just put them aside for a while. He lit a cigarette and started drifting in its smoke; tried to divert his attention by some antics like making rings of smoke but all it did was to fog his vision giving him a new avenue to pursue.
Life is dirty, murky all the way.
“But wade through the murky waters, we must; we are married to life; albeit a messy marriage. We cannot ignore life; it’s menacing company is with us all the time. Activities that I enjoy are clean, but they are just a few romantic interludes; some green islands in this vast murky sea. Romantic thoughts of clean life are a mirage that runs away as chased; ….”
“If we want some relief, we must dissociate from it for some time at times.”
“How true! And that’s why one must lose one’s sanity every now and then, make an ass of oneself.”
“Now you understand that you are a mule?” His other self was smirking.
“Ha ha ha; so, I may as well be one;” and he took a sip.
“So, you are not in love with Jenny. Do you expect Jenny to be in love with you? … Yes, of course! That is what we all want, and there is the problem. All the freedom for oneself, none for others. … Isn’t this what Mary Lou wants; we all want. … We want to search for that spark igniting passion; there is a name for it: The true love. Search forever my friend, search for the illusion, chase the mirage. … Do you even know what that spark is, what ‘true love’ is; any concept of it; and where will you find it? On the other side of the river? On that mount? … The spark you are talking about my friend, ‘true love,’ does not exist; it is an illusion; a fictitious concoction of our minds; an idealistic, utopian foolishness; the dew of desert; to a thirsty leaf it feels like a flood when it comes, that is when we feel that it has arrived; a drop of moisture is enough to drown our senses and carry us away, infatuate us. But it dissipates quickly, at times it may linger a little longer, but dissipate it must. … As we are out of it after the flood has receded and dissipated, it evaporates as the dew of desert does, leaving the same old hot, arid desert behind. … Mary Lou and you are like the ‘fair damsel’ in the first part of the above poem; but the reality is the second half of it.”
“So, what do you suggest?”
“Nothing. … If I suggest, you’ll not follow unless it would be your own realization, and then you’ll call it following the suggestion of a friend, namely me. Credit for oneself, fault for others.”
“But we are the same being, not different; the difference is for convenience only.”
“As long as it suits you. If not, we are as different as the head and tail of a coin.”
Jim was sipping wine and puffing on his cigarette as he was thinking; his mind was roaming here and there.
He felt a bit munchy. To pacify his appetite, he checked the shelves where he kept all sorts of things, eating material to the utensils, even pencils at times. He noticed a jar of nuts; took a handful in a small bowl. Cigarette was finished. So, now he was munching the nuts and sipping wine.
“So, Jenny doesn’t have a spark; she is mundane. But life is mundane; one needs a mundane company in this mundane life. Exciting company is enthralling, but it needs excitement to sustain. For how long can you provide the needed excitement? Excitement uses energy to sustain. Can you provide all that much energy? Recall from your past: Annie was prettier, intelligent, and nicer, but it was the mediocre butterfly, Amy, frisky as the eyes of a wagtail, with little brain and beauty who captivated and captured you. After a day of mundane life, you longed for Amy’s arms; and more. But you drained out yourself quite quickly …”
“Not that quickly.”
“Ha, ha, ha, feeling threatened, insecure? Don’t feel bad brother, I wasn’t questioning your manhood, your virility. I agree that you were quite a man for Amy, or any other woman for that matter. Whatever the case, you did drain yourself out; particularly as Amy was quite obliging. … After that period of heightened pleasure and excitement, what did you do? … ”
“Headed to Annie.”
“Precisely. It was her company that provided you the needed relief and nourishment, the rest and comfort.”
“Both of them together satisfied my complementary needs.”
“True, but life does not provide us that luxury. We have to choose one.”
“We have imposed that restriction on ourselves. We can structure our society so that both of our basic urges can be satisfied.”
“Mary Lou is asking for that convenience for herself. Is she not?”
“It is because we are in this system. We are more intelligent; can make it fairer.”
“How naïve of you to say my friend. We have been living on this planet for quite long. Have we come up with a satisfactory system? And it is not for lack of trying. … Initially we were the creatures of the wild; we roamed free. We could live as reptiles if we wanted to. You know the ways of the king cobra; let me recall: Oh yeah, I saw a documentary once. A king cobra was living in a place; another one comes and wants that place; so, they fight, and the intruder wins. … They both could kill each-other but neither one would sting the other. Why? It is the survival instinct my brother, survival of the specie; fight but don’t kill, so that you can fight yet again someday; keep the culture going my friend, keep the fights going.… Oops I drifted.
The story, yes; the vanquished one wanders off, in search of a new home, and encounters a female along the way. He nudges her but she does not respond; he persists. After rejecting a couple of times, she compromises, and they mate. Then the male crawls away; and that is the last time he sees his female! As for the babies, he never sees them … neither does the mother, but that is another matter. … We weren’t very far from the king cobras during the stone age, but we evolved further not only physically but also in our societal structuring. … We were not happy with that life; so, we created families and constructed tribes. The rules were developed for the families and tribes to function smoothly; we were free, we didn’t like the freedom, so , we created shackles! What else are the rules? They are the shackles my brother, and now we don’t like our own rules; we want freedom; go back and forth. … No brother, going backwards is no solution; going back to what we rejected is no solution. … We have failed, failed miserably, failed in satisfying our two basic needs: Food and Sex, one rooted in the survival of the self and the other, in the survival of the specie, and in managing the associated matters. … We made a mistake of evolving beyond the lowest forms of life; we could remain in some form like the king cobras, or even lower; but no, we had to be the masters of the universe, and for that my friend, we had to have a brain developed more than all the others. … We are paying the penalty for being the most advanced and the most successful specie on Earth. …”
Jim dropped a cashew on the floor. He bent down to pick it; then stopped suddenly. He had dropped cashews on the floor before, but this time it looked different. He stared at the cashew for a few moments. It appeared to move, wiggle like a worm.
“No, no; this can’t be. A cashew can’t wiggle; I must be hallucinating;” he thought, “I haven’t had all that much to drink. … This is likely the stress caused by an intense thinking, and lack of food; you missed your supper, remember? … May be, but I can see better in this state; … this is probably the fetus, looks like one, of some animal; may be even human; primitive state. I heard somewhere that a baby in womb goes through all stages of evolution to achieve the final state.”
“Wake up Jim; this is a cashew; you picked it from the jar yourself.”
“Yes, but my mind can see something more than what appears on the surface.”
“The reality is that the thing that fell on the floor is a cashew as the others in the bowl”
He looked in the bowl; his eyes opened wide; “They are all alive; crawling on top of each other!”
“Go to bed Jim.”
“And miss out on this fantastic experience?”
“This is fantastic alright; but a cashew is still a cashew.”
“Really? … Zhuangzi, a Chinese philosopher dreamt once that he was a butterfly; fluttering like a butterfly; forgot that he was Zhuangzi. Then he awakened. For the rest of his life he wondered whether he was a man who dreamt that he was a butterfly, or he is now a butterfly dreaming that he is a man. … What is reality? Is reality a universal fact, or a subjective perception. What was Zhuangzi? A man or a butterfly?”…
Jim jerked his head as if he woke up suddenly from sleep. He had probably dozed off sitting in his chair, more likely, he had been daydreaming.
“Is Jenny real?”
“A universal fact or just my perception, Jenny is real either way. … Jenny was not my first and she has not been my last; I have associated with other women before I met Jenny and since I met her. It can continue this way in the future as well.”
“Were you her first, or last? Jenny may have associated with other men before she met you, she likely did, and since she met you.”
“I don’t care either way. She can continue the way she wants too.”
“You are devising a way of life for her according to your convenience.”
“How’s that? I am giving her the same option as myself.”
“Without consulting her. … She may not want that, but you are assuming that she would. … Also, it is easy to theorize Jim, living it is another matter. You’ll discover in time how difficult it is. … We are polygamous, admitted, but we are also a jealous lot, possessive; we are living contradictions Jim. Face it, we don’t want to share; we want it all for ourselves; and there is the crux of the problem. … What if she decides to leave you and ties the knot with someone else? I mean if she forges a committed relation with someone else, leaving no room for you in her life, and be happier that way. … We don’t want to accept the shackles we created because we weren’t happy with the freedom; we don’t accept freedom and we don’t accept the shackles; timeless dilemma for the humans.”
“We could be as simple as the king cobras; why did we have to make life so complicated for us?”
“Don’t ask me; I’m in the same quandary as you , my friend. I already discussed that it all came with the territory; we wanted to be the most successful specie on earth. … All I can say is that we had reasons to change our lot then, and the reasons weren’t all that different from the reasons we conjure up now to justify wanting to change our current situations. … ”
The thought sobered Jim up fully. He had not realized before that he was not ready to lose Jenny; share, yes, lose, no. …
“Sharing might not stop at that, that may force us to part. … Would it be easy to share either? Would it really be acceptable to you?”
“You are not ready Jim, not ready to commit, not ready to part.”
After a brief interlude, the thought resumed:
“You remember that lady in her early thirties, what was her name; Eva, I believe; doesn’t matter; call her Eva. Remember Eva was served a chicken embryo in one of her dreams, which she ran away from in revulsion? A psychologist deciphered the dream for her: Our subconscious reveals our hidden nature, views, through our dreams. What was being revealed in this dream was her subconscious desire to enjoy sex without the encumbrance of babies, which she equated with eating an embryo, representing her own babies; and now you can understand her revulsion. … Are you any different from Eva? … You too want enjoyment without the associated encumbrances Jim. … I mean all encumbrances; babies are only one of them. Commitment is an encumbrance. And you are running away from it.”
By this time, Jim was a bit hungry; hungry enough to want a late-night snack. He boiled a couple of eggs, rather soft but still peelable. He sipped some wine, peeled his eggs, and placed them in a plate. Together the eggs looked like the breasts of a woman. As he looked at the eggs, he felt something unusual. Appeared that there was life in them.
He placed one egg on his palm; covered it with another; and closed his eyes. He was feeling what was between his palms with full indulgence, with his entire being. He felt the warmth of a woman’s breast, perhaps, warmth of a womb, of the interior of a womb. …
“What is it between my palms? Breast of a woman? Womb of a woman? An egg? A fetus? Or a fetus in an egg in a womb? … All or some of them. … As they are or including their potentialities? … Fetus has the potential to develop into something to suckle on the breasts. Is there that also?”
“You can exclude that Jim; remember, you boiled the eggs.”
“Yes. … What is Jenny? Her face? Her body? Her … her … her …. They are all her, not her. Then what is she? She is all combinations of them and their unions!”
“You are drifting Jim and getting confused.”
“Yes, but I am trapped in its grip. I can’t be free until I resolve it.”
He remembered that he was hungry just a few minutes ago and smiled at himself for his folly in forgetting even his hunger so quickly. He picked the egg from his palm and proceeded to eat it. Quite unusually, he touched the egg with his lips, felt it for a few moments; then caressed it with his tongue. Then he proceeded to take a bite but stopped suddenly: He was unable to take a bite off an egg!
Jim placed the plate on the table and both eggs in the plate. He found himself unable to eat the eggs; felt an aversion. After thinking for a couple of minutes, he picked the plate and threw the eggs out of the window. As he did, he heard a flutter of feathers and then prowl and growl of a cat. A short struggle followed and then, all fell silent.
“What happened to the eggs? It was likely an owl that tried to get them. But then some cat noticed and jumped onto the eggs. Most likely, the cat got the eggs and tore the owl apart. The law of jungle in full swing. … My eggs gone to some cat!”
“Jim, you gave them away; you threw them yourself, consciously. You have no right to question what happened to them; it’s no longer your concern.”
“They were my eggs; I have every right to them.”
“You had every right to them, until before you threw them out of the window. After you threw them out, they were fair game for all. … What if a fight ensued and the mightier snatched and seized; took possession of them; to consume and enjoy? …Face it, Jim, this is the only oasis, the only fixture in your life; all else comes and goes; this is what you have in this vast desert; all else, that gives an impression of being an oasis, are mirages; … the fair damsel is likely to return empty handed; reflect back; and sigh forever.” …
He felt a twinge, “Cannot see my eggs go to, possessed by, enjoyed by, someone else, an owl or a cat or whatever else.” He looked out of the window, again. Saw nothing.
Jim made his decision; and went to bed.